Book Review

Markus, Mario. Chemical Poems: One on Each Element.  Dos Madres Press Inc. Loveland, OH, 2013. pp. 289 + xiv, ISBN 978-1-933675-98-5 (softcover) $30.

Also reviewed in C&EN:
http://cen.acs.org/articles/92/i7/Elemental-Amulets.html

This delightful book combines the factual, historical, data, properties, and use information on the chemical elements with the literary. The factual information for each element appears on the left hand page and the facing page has a poem illustrating the author’s impressions of the scientific information. For each element, the state of matter, density (for liquids and solids), history (including discoverer), sources (including astronomical detection), and selected properties and uses are listed. Terms with asterisks are defined in the glossary and detailed references (375) are given for properties and uses. The subjects of the poems, written without rhyme or meter, concentrate on the discovery, properties, and uses of interest to the author. They tend to lyrically feature the people, mythology, emotional, social, and political aspects associated with each element. For example, use of phosphorus in matches and nerve gasses, often harmful, are poetically described, but uses as an essential plant nutrient and fertilizer are not. Beauty, as in gems, is often contracted with toxicity. Negative political and environmental aspects are often featured.

Although 118 elements are known or have been discovered (through the actinide series), elements 119-122, 126, 164, and 210 are described. These last are predicted to have at least one isotope that may be stable enough (close to an island of stability) for detection and investigation of its chemistry.  Since element 113 and above 114 have not yet been named (even if discovered), a table of triple numeric symbols are given on the factual page for element 113 (Uut, also known as eka-thallium). Relativistic effects on the electrons for transuranic elements begin to appear and deviations from periodic relationships are described. Understandably, the properties and possible occurrence of undiscovered elements are items of conjecture, but detection in supernovas as well as residual “halos” from residual radioactive decay may be due to the prior presence of many.

A periodic table and a brief primer on nuclear chemistry are presented at the beginning of the book, including atomic and electronic shell structure as well as a diagram of the peninsula and islands of nuclear stability. Some of the properties and uses of the elements are well known but others are not, intriguing to both the author and reader. I did not spend the time to look up many of the original references, but I plan to do so. There are some errors. Properties and uses of compounds of the elements are not always distinguished from the elements themselves. The density of potassium is incorrectly listed as 8.56 so the decimal point is displaced by one.  “Boron perborate” should be sodium perborate. The author is Chilean and was educated and has taught in Germany. The original version of the book was in Spanish and has been translated into German and English by the author.

I found this book to be a novel and entertaining way to present chemical information. I recommend it to anyone interested in chemistry, chemical history, and poetry.

Robert E. Buntrock
Orono, ME
buntrock16@roadrunner.com